THE SPLENDID SPUR
BEING MEMOIRS OF THE ADVENTURES OF MR. JOHN MARVEL, A SERVANT OF HIS LATE MAJESTY KING CHARLES I., IN THE YEARS 1642-3: WRITTEN BY HIMSELF:
Edited in Modern English by
Q (ARTHUR T. QUILLER COUCH)
EDWARD GWYNNE EARDLEY-WILMOT.
_MY DEAR EDDIE,
Whatever view a story-teller may take of his business, 'tis happy when he can think, "This book of mine will please such and such a friend," and may set that friend's name after the title page. For even if to please (as some are beginning to hold) should be no part of his aim, at least 'twill always be a reward: and (in unworthier moods) next to a Writer I would choose to be a Lamplighter, as the only other that gets so cordial a "God bless him!" in the long winter evenings.
To win such a welcome at such a time from a new friend or two would be the happiest fortune for my tale. But to you I could wish it to speak particularly, seeing that under the coat of_ JACK MARVEL _beats the heart of your friend_
Torquay, August 22d, 1889.
A year or two ago it was observed that three writers were using the curiously popular signature "Q." This was hardly less confusing than that one writer should use three signatures (Grant Allen, Arbuthnot Wilson, and Anon), but as none of the three was willing to try another letter, they had to leave it to the public (whose decision in such matters is final) to say who is Q to it. The public said, Let him wear this proud letter who can win it, and for the present at least it is in the possession of the author of "The Splendid Spur" and "The Blue Pavilions." It would seem, too, as if it were his "to keep," for "Q" is like the competition cups that are only yours for a season, unless you manage to carry them three times in succession. Mr. Quiller-Couch has been champion Q since 1890.
The interesting question is not so much, What has he done to be the only prominent Q of these years, as Is he to be the Q of all time? If so, he will do better work than he has yet done, though several of his latest sketches—and one in particular—are of very uncommon merit. Mr. Quiller-Couch is so unlike Mr. Kipling that one immediately wants to compare them. They are both young, and they have both shown such promise that it will be almost sad if neither can write a book to live—as, of course, neither has done as yet. Mr. Kipling is the more audacious, which is probably a matter of training. He was brought up in India, where one's beard grows much quicker than at Oxford, and where you not only become a man (and a cynic) in a hurry, but see and hear strange things (and print them) such as the youth of Oxford miss, or, becoming acquainted with, would not dare insert in the local magazine of the moment. So Mr. Kipling's first work betokened a knowledge of the world that is by no means to be found in "Dead Man's Rock," the first book published by Mr. Quiller-Couch. On the other hand, it cannot truly be said that Mr. Kipling's latest work is stronger than his first, while the other writer's growth is the most remarkable thing about him. It is precisely the same Mr. Kipling who is now in the magazines that was writing some years ago in India (and a rare good Mr. Kipling too), but the Mr. Quiller-Couch of to-day is the Quiller-Couch of "Dead Man's Rock" grown out of recognition. To compare their styles is really to compare the men. Mr. Kipling's is the more startling, the stronger (as yet), and the more mannered. Mark Twain, it appears, said he reads Mr. Kipling for his style, which is really the same thing as saying you read him for his books, though the American seems only to have meant that he eats the beef because he likes the salt. It is a journalistic style, aiming too constantly at sharp effects, always succeeding in getting them. Sometimes this is contrived at the expense of grammar, as when (a common trick with the author) he ends a story with such a paragraph as "Which is manifestly unfair." Mr. Quiller-Couch has never sinned in this way, but his first style was somewhat turgid, even melodramatic, and, compared with Mr. Kipling's, lacked distinction. From the beginning Mr. Kipling had the genius for using the right word twice in three times (Mr. Stevenson only misses it about once in twelve), while Mr. Quiller-Couch not only used the wrong word, but weighted it with adjectives. The charge, however, cannot be brought against him to-day, for having begun by writing like a Mr. Haggard not quite sure of himself (if one can imagine such a Mr. Haggard), and changing to an obvious imitation of Mr. Stevenson, he seems now to have made a style for himself. It is clear and careful, but not as yet strong winged. Its distinctive feature is that it is curiously musical.
"Dead Man's Rock" is a capital sensational story to be read and at once forgotten. It was followed by "The Astonishing History of Troy Town," which was humorous, and proved that the author owed a debt to Dickens. But it was not sufficiently humorous to be remarkable for its humor, and it will go hand in hand with "Dead Man's Rock" to oblivion. Until "The Splendid Spur" appeared Mr. Quiller-Couch had done little to suggest that an artist had joined the ranks of the story-tellers. It is not in anyway a great work, but it was among the best dozen novels of its year, and as the production of a new writer it was one of the most notable. About the same time was published another historical romance of the second class (for to nothing short of Sir Walter shall we give a first-class in this department), "Micah Clarke," by Mr. Conan Doyle. It was as inevitable that the two books should be compared as that he who enjoyed the one should enjoy the other. In one respect "Micah Clarke" is the better story. It contains one character, a soldier of fortune, who is more memorable than any single figure in "The Splendid Spur." This, however, is effected at a cost, for this man is the book. It contains, indeed, two young fellows, one of them a John Ridd, but no Diana Vernon would blow a kiss to either. Both stories are weak in pathos, despite Joan, but there are a score of humorous situations in "The Splendid Spur" that one could not forget if he would—which he would not—as, for instance, where hero and heroine are hidden in barrels in a ship, and hero cries through his bunghole, "Wilt marry me, sweetheart?" to which heroine replies, "Must get out of this cask first." Better still is the scene in which Captain Billy expatiates, with a mop and a bucket, on the merits of his crew. But the passages are for reading, not for hearing about. Of the characters, this same Captain Billy is not the worst, but perhaps the best is Joan, Mr. Quiller-Couch's first successful picture of a girl. A capital eccentric figure is killed (some good things are squandered in this book) just when we are beginning to find him a genuine novelty. Anything that is ready to leap into danger seems to be thought good enough for the hero of a fighting romance, so that Jack Marvel will pass (though Delia, as is right and proper, is worth two of him, despite her coming-on disposition). The villain is a failure, and the plot poor. Nevertheless there are some ingenious complications in it. Jack's escape by means of the hangman's rope, which was to send him out of the world in a few hours, is a fine rollicking bit of sensation. Where Mr. Quiller-Couch and Mr. Conan Doyle both fail as compared with the great master of romance is in the introduction of historical figures and episodes. Scott would have been a great man if he had written no novel but "The Abbott" (one of his second best), and no part of "The Abbott" but the scene in which Mary signs away her crown. Mr. Quiller-Couch almost entirely avoids such attempts, and even Mr. Conan Doyle only dips into them timidly. There is, one has been told, a theory that the romancist has no right to picture history in this way. But he makes his rights when he does it as Scott did it.
Since "The Splendid Spur," Mr. Quiller-Couch has published nothing in book form which can be considered an advance on his best novel, but there have appeared by him a number of short Cornish sketches, which are perhaps best considered as experiments. They are perilously slight, and where they are successful one remembers them as sweet dreams or like a bar of music. All aim at this effect, so that many should not be taken at a time, and some (as was to be expected with such delicate work) miss their mark. It might be said that in several of these melodies Mr. Quiller-Couch has been writing the same thing again and again, determined to succeed absolutely, if not this time then the next, and if not the next time then the time after. In one case he has succeeded absolutely. "The Small People," is a prose "Song of the Shirt." To my mind this is a rare piece of work, and the biggest thing for its size that has been done in English fiction for some years.
These sketches have been called experiments. They show (as his books scarcely show) that Mr. Quiller-Couch can feel. They suggest that he may be able to do for Cornwall what Mr. Hardy has done for Dorset— though the methods of the two writers are as unlike as their counties. But that can only be if in filling his notebook with these little comedies and tragedies Mr. Quiller-Couch is preparing for more sustained efforts.
"Our hope and heart is with thee We will stand and mark."
J. M. BARRIE.
I. THE BOWLING-GREEN OF THE "CROWN"
II. THE YOUNG MAN IN THE CLOAK OF AMBER SATIN
III. I FIND MYSELF IN A TAVERN BRAWL; AND BARELY ESCAPE
IV. I TAKE THE ROAD
V. MY ADVENTURE AT THE "THREE CUPS"
VI. THE FLIGHT IN THE PINE WOOD
VII. I FIND A COMRADE
VIII. I LOSE THE KING'S LETTER; AND AM CARRIED TO BRISTOL
IX I BREAK OUT OF PRISON
X. CAPTAIN POTTERY AND CAPTAIN SETTLE
XI. I RIDE DOWN INTO TEMPLE; AND AM WELL TREATED THERE
XII. HOW JOAN SAVED THE ARMY OF THE WEST; AND SAW THE FIGHT ON BRADDOCK DOWN
XIII. I BUY A LOOKING GLASS AT BODMIN FAIR; AND MEET WITH MR. HANNIBAL TINGCOMB
XIV. I DO NO GOOD IN THE HOUSE OF GLEYS
XV. I LEAVE JOAN AND RIDE TO THE WARS
XVI. THE BATTLE OF STAMFORD HEATH
XVII. I MEET WITH A HAPPY ADVENTURE BY BURNING OF A GREEN LIGHT
XVIII. JOAN DOES ME HER LAST SERVICE
XIX THE ADVENTURE OF THE HEARSE
XX. THE ADVENTURE OF THE LEDGE; AND HOW I SHOOK HANDS WITH MY COMRADE
THE SPLENDID SPUR.
THE BOWLING-GREEN OF THE "CROWN."
He that has jilted the Muse, forsaking her gentle pipe to follow the drum and trumpet, shall fruitlessly besiege her again when the time comes to sit at home and write down his adventures. 'Tis her revenge, as I am extremely sensible: and methinks she is the harder to me, upon reflection how near I came to being her lifelong servant, as you are to hear.
'Twas on November 29th, Ao. 1642—a clear, frosty day—that the King, with the Prince of Wales (newly recovered of the measles), the Princes Rupert and Maurice, and a great company of lords and gentlemen, horse and foot, came marching back to us from Reading. I was a scholar of Trinity College in Oxford at that time, and may begin my history at three o'clock on the same afternoon, when going (as my custom was) to Mr. Rob. Drury for my fencing lesson, I found his lodgings empty.
They stood at the corner of Ship Street, as you turn into the Corn Market—a low wainscoted chamber, ill-lighted but commodious. "He is off to see the show," thought I as I looked about me; and finding an easy cushion in the window, sat down to await him. Where presently, being tired out (for I had been carrying a halberd all day with the scholars' troop in Magdalen College Grove), and in despite of the open lattice, I fell sound asleep.
It must have been an hour after that I awoke with a chill (as was natural), and was stretching out a hand to pull the window close, but suddenly sat down again and fell to watching instead.
The window look'd down, at the height of ten feet or so, upon a bowling-green at the back of the "Crown" Tavern (kept by John Davenant, in the Corn Market), and across it to a rambling wing of the same inn; the fourth side—that to my left—being but an old wall, with a broad sycamore growing against it. 'Twas already twilight; and in the dark'ning house, over the green, was now one casement brightly lit, the curtains undrawn, and within a company of noisy drinkers round a table. They were gaming, as was easily told by their clicking of the dice and frequent oaths: and anon the bellow of some tipsy chorus would come across. 'Twas one of these catches, I dare say, that woke me: only just now my eyes were bent, not toward the singers, but on the still lawn between us.
The sycamore, I have hinted, was a broad tree, and must, in summer, have borne a goodly load of leaves: but now, in November, these were strewn thick over the green, and nothing left but stiff, naked boughs. Beneath it lay a crack'd bowl or two on the rank turf, and against the trunk a garden bench rested, I suppose for the convenience of the players. On this a man was now seated.
He was reading in a little book; and this first jogged my curiosity: for 'twas unnatural a man should read print at this dim hour, or, if he had a mind to try, should choose a cold bowling-green for his purpose. Yet he seemed to study his volume very attentively, but with a sharp look, now and then, toward the lighted window, as if the revellers disturb'd him. His back was partly turn'd to me; and what with this and the growing dusk, I could but make a guess at his face: but a plenty of silver hair fell over his fur collar, and his shoulders were bent a great deal. I judged him between fifty and sixty. For the rest, he wore a dark, simple suit, very straitly cut, with an ample furr'd cloak, and a hat rather tall, after the fashion of the last reign.
Now, why the man's behavior so engaged me, I don't know: but at the end of half an hour I was still watching him. By this, 'twas near dark, bitter cold, and his pretence to read mere fondness: yet he persevered—though with longer glances at the casement above, where the din at times was fit to wake the dead.
And now one of the dicers upsets his chair with a curse, and gets on his feet. Looking up, I saw his features for a moment—a slight, pretty boy, scarce above eighteen, with fair curls and flush'd cheeks like a girl's. It made me admire to see him in this ring of purple, villainous faces. 'Twas evident he was a young gentleman of quality, as well by his bearing as his handsome cloak of amber satin barr'd with black. "I think the devil's in these dice!" I heard him crying, and a pretty hubbub all about him: but presently the drawer enters with more wine, and he sits down quietly to a fresh game.
As soon as 'twas started, one of the crew, that had been playing but was now dropp'd out, lounges up from his seat, and coming to the casement pushes it open for fresh air. He was one that till now had sat in full view—a tall bully, with a gross pimpled nose; and led the catches in a bull's voice. The rest of the players paid no heed to his rising; and very soon his shoulders hid them, as he lean'd out, drawing in the cold breath.
During the late racket I had forgot for a while my friend under the sycamore, but now, looking that way, to my astonishment I saw him risen from his bench and stealing across to the house opposite. I say "stealing," for he kept all the way to the darker shadow of the wall, and besides had a curious trailing motion with his left foot as though the ankle of it had been wrung or badly hurt.
As soon as he was come beneath the window he stopped and called softly—
The bully gave a start and look'd down. I could tell by this motion he did not look to find anyone in the bowling-green at that hour. Indeed he had been watching the shaft of light thrown past him by the room behind, and now moved so as to let it fall on the man that addressed him.
The other stands close under the window, as if to avoid this, and calls again—
"Hist!" says he, and beckons with a finger.
The man at the window still held his tongue (I suppose because those in the room would hear him if he spoke), and so for a while the two men studied one another in silence, as if considering their next moves.
After a bit, however, the bully lifted a hand, and turning back into the lighted room, walks up to one of the players, speaks a word or two and disappears.
I sat up on the window seat, where till now I had been crouching for fear the shaft of light should betray me, and presently (as I was expecting) heard the latch of the back perch gently lifted, and spied the heavy form of the bully coming softly over the grass.
Now, I would not have my readers prejudiced, and so may tell them this was the first time in my life I had played the eavesdropper. That I did so now I can never be glad enough, but 'tis true, nevertheless, my conscience pricked me; and I was even making a motion to withdraw when that occurred which would have fixed any man's attention, whether he wish'd it or no.
The bully must have closed the door behind him but carelessly, for hardly could he take a dozen steps when it opened again with a scuffle, and the large house dog belonging to the "Crown" flew at his heels with a vicious snarl and snap of the teeth.
'Twas enough to scare the coolest. But the fellow turn'd as if shot, and before he could snap again, had gripped him fairly by the throat. The struggle that follow'd I could barely see, but I heard the horrible sounds of it—the hard, short breathing of the man, the hoarse rage working in the dog's throat—and it turned me sick. The dog—a mastiff—was fighting now to pull loose, and the pair swayed this way and that in the dusk, panting and murderous.
I was almost shouting aloud—feeling as though 'twere my own throat thus gripp'd—when the end came. The man had his legs planted well apart.
I saw his shoulders heave up and bend as he tightened the pressure of his fingers; then came a moment's dead silence, then a hideous gurgle, and the mastiff dropped back, his hind legs trailing limp.
The bully held him so for a full minute, peering close to make sure he was dead, and then without loosening his hold, dragged him across the grass under my window. By the sycamore he halted, but only to shift his hands a little; and so, swaying on his hips, sent the carcase with a heave over the wall. I heard it drop with a thud on the far side.
During this fierce wrestle—which must have lasted about two minutes—the clatter and shouting of the company above had gone on without a break; and all this while the man with the white hair had rested quietly on one side, watching. But now he steps up to where the bully stood mopping his face (for all the coolness of the evening), and, with a finger between the leaves of his book, bows very politely.
"You handled that dog, sir, choicely well," says he, in a thin voice that seemed to have a chuckle hidden in it somewhere.
The other ceased mopping to get a good look at him.
"But sure," he went on, "'twas hard on the poor cur, that had never heard of Captain Lucius Higgs—"
I thought the bully would have had him by the windpipe and pitched him after the mastiff, so fiercely he turn'd at the sound of this name. But the old gentleman skipped back quite nimbly and held up a finger.
"I'm a man of peace. If another title suits you better—"
"Where the devil got you that name?" growled the bully, and had half a mind to come on again, but the other put in briskly—
"I'm on a plain errand of business. No need, as you hint, to mention names; and therefore let me present myself as Mr. Z. The residue of the alphabet is at your service to pick and choose from."
"My name is Luke Settle," said the big man hoarsely (but whether this was his natural voice or no I could not tell).
"Let us say 'Mr. X.' I prefer it."
The old gentleman, as he said this, popped his head on one side, laid the forefinger of his right hand across the book, and seem'd to be considering.
"Why did you throttle that dog a minute ago?" he asked sharply.
"Why, to save my skin," answers the fellow, a bit puzzled.
"Would you have done it for fifty pounds?"
"Aye, or half that."
"And how if it had been a puppy, Mr. X?"
Now all this from my hiding I had heard very clearly, for they stood right under me in the dusk. But as the old gentleman paused to let his question sink in, and the bully to catch the drift of it before answering, one of the dicers above struck up to sing a catch——
"With a hey, trolly-lolly! a leg to the Devil, And answer him civil, and off with your cap: Sing—Hey, trolly-lolly! Good-morrow, Sir Evil, We've finished the tap, And, saving your worship, we care not a rap!"
While this din continued, the stranger held up one forefinger again, as if beseeching silence, the other remaining still between the pages of his book.
"Pretty boys!" he said, as the noise died away; "pretty boys! 'Tis easily seen they have a bird to pluck."
"He's none of my plucking."
"And if he were, why not? Sure you've picked a feather or two before now in the Low Countries—hey?"
"I'll tell you what," interrupts the big man, "next time you crack one of your death's-head jokes, over the wall you go after the dog. What's to prevent it?"
"Why, this," answers the old fellow, cheerfully. "There's money to be made by doing no such thing. And I don't carry it all about with me. So, as 'tis late, we'd best talk business at once."
They moved away toward the seat under the sycamore, and now their words reached me no longer—only the low murmur of their voices or (to be correct) of the elder man's: for the other only spoke now and then, to put a question, as it seemed. Presently I heard an oath rapped out and saw the bully start up. "Hush, man!" cried the other, and "hark-ye now—"; so he sat down again. Their very forms were lost within the shadow. I, myself, was cold enough by this time and had a cramp in one leg—but lay still, nevertheless. And after awhile they stood up together, and came pacing across the bowling- green, side by side, the older man trailing his foot painfully to keep step. You may be sure I strain'd my ears.
"—besides the pay," the stranger was saying, "there's all you can win of this young fool, Anthony, and all you find on the pair, which I'll wager—"
They passed out of hearing, but turned soon, and came back again. The big man was speaking this time.
"I'll be shot if I know what game you're playing in this."
The elder chuckled softly. "I'll be shot if I mean you to," said he.
And this was the last I heard. For now there came a clattering at the door behind me, and Mr. Robert Drury reeled in, hiccuping a maudlin ballad about "Tib and young Colin, one fine day, beneath the haycock shade-a," &c., &c., and cursing to find his fire gone out, and all in darkness. Liquor was ever his master, and to- day the King's health had been a fair excuse. He did not spy me, but the roar of his ballad had startled the two men outside, and so, while he was stumbling over chairs, and groping for a tinder-box, I slipp'd out in the darkness, and downstairs into the street.
THE YOUNG MAN IN THE CLOAK OF AMBER SATIN,
Guess, any of you, if these events disturbed my rest that night. 'Twas four o'clock before I dropp'd asleep in my bed in Trinity, and my last thoughts were still busy with the words I had heard. Nor, on the morrow, did it fair any better with me: so that, at rhetoric lecture, our president—Dr. Ralph Kettle—took me by the ears before the whole class. He was the fiercer upon me as being older than the gross of my fellow-scholars, and (as he thought) the more restless under discipline. "A tutor'd adolescence," he would say, "is a fair grace before meat," and had his hourglass enlarged to point the moral for us. But even a rhetoric lecture must have an end, and so, tossing my gown to the porter, I set off at last for Magdalen Bridge, where the new barricado was building, along the Physic Garden, in front of East Gate.
The day was dull and low'ring, though my wits were too busy to heed the sky; but scarcely was I past the small gate in the city wall when a brisk shower of hail and sleet drove me to shelter in the Pig Market ( or Proscholium) before the Divinity School. 'Tis an ample vaulted passage, as I dare say you know; and here I found a great company of people already driven by the same cause.
To describe them fully 'twould be necessary to paint the whole state of our city in those distracted times, which I have neither wit nor time for. But here, to-day, along with many doctors and scholars, were walking courtiers, troopers, mountebanks, cut-purses, astrologers, rogues and gamesters; together with many of the first ladies and gentlemen of England, as the Prince Maurice, the lords Andover, Digby and Colepepper, my lady Thynne, Mistress Fanshawe, Mr. Secretary Nicholas, the famous Dr. Harvey, arm-in-arm with my lord Falkland (whose boots were splash'd with mud, he having ridden over from his house at Great Tew), and many such, all mix'd in this incredible tag-rag. Mistress Fanshawe, as I remember, was playing on a lute, which she carried always slung about her shoulders: and close beside her, a fellow impudently puffing his specific against the morbus campestris, which already had begun to invade us.
"Who'll buy?" he was bawling. "'Tis from the receipt of a famous Italian, and never yet failed man, woman, nor child, unless the heart were clean drown'd in the disease: the lest part of it good muscadine, and has virtue against the plague, smallpox, or surfeits!"
I was standing before this jackanapes, when I heard a stir in the crowd behind me, and another calling, "Who'll buy? Who'll buy?"
Turning, I saw a young man, very gaily dressed, moving quickly about at the far end of the Pig Market, and behind him an old lackey, bent double with the weight of two great baskets that he carried. The baskets were piled with books, clothes, and gewgaws of all kinds; and 'twas the young gentleman that hawked his wares himself. "What d'ye lack?" he kept shouting, and would stop to unfold his merchandise, holding up now a book, and now a silk doublet, and running over their merits like any huckster—but with the merriest conceit in the world.
And yet 'twas not this that sent my heart flying into my mouth at the sight of him. For by his curls and womanish face, no less than the amber cloak with the black bars, I knew him at once for the same I had seen yesterday among the dicers.
As I stood there, drawn this way and that by many reflections, he worked his way through the press, selling here and there a trifle from his baskets, and at length came to a halt in front of me.
"Ha!" he cried, pulling off his plumed hat, and bowing low, "a scholar, I perceive. Let me serve you, sir. Here is the 'History of Saint George,'" and he picked out a thin brown quarto and held it up; "written by Master Peter Heylin; a ripe book they tell me (though, to be sure, I never read beyond the title), and the price a poor two shillings."
Now, all this while I was considering what to do. So, as I put my hand in my pocket, and drew out the shillings, I said very slowly, looking him in the eyes (but softly, so that the lackey might not hear)——
"So thus you feed your expenses at the dice: and my shilling, no doubt, is for Luke Settle, as well as the rest."
For the moment, under my look, he went white to the lips; then clapped his hand to his sword, withdrew it, and answered me, red as a turkey-cock——
"Shalt be a parson, yet, Master Scholar: but art in a damn'd hurry, it seems."
Now, I had ever a quick temper, and as he turned on his heel, was like to have replied and raised a brawl. My own meddling tongue had brought the rebuff upon me: but yet my heart was hot as he walked away.
I was standing there and looking after him, turning over in my hand the "Life of Saint George," when my fingers were aware of a slip of paper between the pages. Pulling it out, I saw 'twas scribbled over with writing and figures, as follows:—
"Mr. Anthony Killigrew, his acct for Oct. 25th, MDCXLII.—For herrings, 2d.; for coffie, 4d.; for scowring my coat, 6d.; at bowls, 5s. 10d.; for bleading me, 1s. 0d.; for ye King's speech, 3d.; for spic'd wine (with Marjory), 2s. 4d.; for seeing ye Rhinoceros, 4d.; at ye Ranter-go-round, 6 3/4d.; for a pair of silver buttons, 2s. 6d.; for apples, 2 1/2d.; for ale, 6d.; at ye dice, L17 5s.; for spic'd wine (again), 4s. 6d."
And so on.
As I glanced my eye down this paper, my anger oozed away, and a great feeling of pity came over me, not only at the name of Anthony —the name I had heard spoken in the bowling-green last night—but also to see that monstrous item of L17 odd spent on the dice. 'Twas such a boy, too, after all, that I was angry with, that had spent fourpence to see the rhinoceros at a fair, and rode on the ranter- go-round (with "Marjory," no doubt, as 'twas for her, no doubt, the silver buttons were bought). So that, with quick forgiveness, I hurried after him, and laid a hand on his shoulder.
He stood by the entrance, counting up his money, and drew himself up very stiff.
"I think, sir," said I, "this paper is yours."
"I thank you," he answered, taking it, and eyeing me. "Is there anything, besides, you wished to say?"
"A great deal, maybe, if your name be Anthony."
"Master Anthony Killigrew is my name, sir; now serving under Lord Bernard Stewart in His Majesty's troop of guards."
"And mine is Jack Marvel," said I.
"Of the Yorkshire Marvels?"
"Why, yes; though but a shoot of that good stock, transplanted to Cumberland, and there sadly withered."
"'Tis no matter, sir," said he politely; "I shall be proud to cross swords with you."
"Why, bless your heart!" I cried out, full of laughter at this childish punctilio; "d'ye think I came to fight you?"
"If not, sir"—and he grew colder than ever—"you are going a cursed roundabout way to avoid it."
Upon this, finding no other way out of it, I began my tale at once: but hardly had come to the meeting of the two men on the bowling- green, when he interrupts me politely——
"I think, Master Marvel, as yours is like to be a story of some moment, I will send this fellow back to my lodgings. He's a long- ear'd dog that I am saving from the gallows for so long as my conscience allows me. The shower is done, I see; so if you know of a retir'd spot, we will talk there more at our leisure."
He dismiss'd his lackey, and stroll'd off with me to the Trinity Grove, where, walking up and down, I told him all I had heard and seen the night before.
"And now," said I, "can you tell me if you have any such enemy as this white-hair'd man, with the limping gait?"
He had come to a halt, sucking in his lips and seeming to reflect—
"I know one man," he began: "but no—'tis impossible."
As I stood, waiting to hear more, he clapp'd his hand in mine, very quick and friendly: "Jack," he cried;—"I'll call thee Jack—'twas an honest good turn thou hadst in thy heart to do me, and I a surly rogue to think of fighting—I that could make mincemeat of thee."
"I can fence a bit," answer'd I.
"Now, say no more, Jack: I love thee."
He look'd in my face, still holding my hand and smiling. Indeed, there was something of the foreigner in his brisk graceful ways—yet not unpleasing. I was going to say I had never seen the like—ah, me! that both have seen and know the twin image so well.
"I think," said I, "you had better be considering what to do."
He laugh'd outright this time; and resting with his legs cross'd, against the trunk of an elm, twirl'd an end of his long lovelocks, and looked at me comically. Said he: "Tell me, Jack, is there aught in me that offends thee?"
"Why, no," I answered. "I think you're a very proper young man—such as I should loathe to see spoil'd by Master Settle's knife."
"Art not quick at friendship, Jack, but better at advising; only in this case fortune has prevented thy good offices. Hark ye," he lean'd forward and glanc'd to right and left, "if these twain intend my hurt—as indeed 'twould seem—they lose their labor: for this very night I ride from Oxford."
"And why is that?"
"I'll tell thee, Jack, tho' I deserve to be shot. I am bound with a letter from His Majesty to the Army of the West, where I have friends, for my father's sake—Sir Deakin Killigrew of Gleys, in Cornwall. 'Tis a sweet country, they say, tho' I have never seen it."
"Not seen thy father's country?"
"Why no—for he married a Frenchwoman, Jack, God rest her dear soul!"—he lifted his hat—"and settled in that country, near Morlaix, in Brittany, among my mother's kin; my grandfather refusing to see or speak with him, for wedding a poor woman without his consent. And in France was I born and bred, and came to England two years agone; and this last July the old curmudgeon died. So that my father, who was an only son, is even now in England returning to his estates: and with him my only sister Delia. I shall meet them on the way. To think of it!" (and I declare the tears sprang to his eyes): "Delia will be a woman grown, and ah! to see dear Cornwall together!"
Now I myself was only a child, and had been made an orphan when but nine years old, by the smallpox that visited our home in Wastdale Village, and carried off my father, the Vicar, and my dear mother. Yet his simple words spoke to my heart and woke so tender a yearning for the small stone cottage, and the bridge, and the grey fells of Yewbarrow above it, that a mist rose in my eyes too, and I turn'd away to hide it.
"'Tis a ticklish business," said I after a minute, "to carry the King's letter. Not one in four of his messengers comes through, they say. But since it keeps you from the dice——"
"That's true. To-night I make an end."
"Why, yes. To-night I go for my revenge, and ride straight from the inn door."
"Then I go with you to the 'Crown,'" I cried, very positive.
He dropp'd playing with his curl, and look'd me in the face, his mouth twitching with a queer smile.
"And so thou shalt Jack: but why?"
"I'll give no reason," said I, and knew I was blushing.
"Then be at the corner of All Hallows' Church in Turl Street at seven to-night. I lodge over Master Simon's, the glover, and must be about my affairs. Jack,"—he came near and took my hand—"am sure thou lovest me."
He nodded, with another cordial smile, and went his way up the grove, his amber cloak flaunting like a belated butterfly under the leaf less trees; and so pass'd out of my sight.
I FIND MYSELF IN A TAVERN BRAWL: AND BARELY ESCAPE.
It wanted, maybe, a quarter to seven, that evening, when, passing out at the College Gate on my way to All Hallows' Church, I saw under the lantern there a man loitering and talking with the porter. 'Twas Master Anthony's lackey; and as I came up, he held out a note for me.
Wee goe to the "Crowne" at VI. o'clock, I having mett with Captain Settle, who is on dewty with the horse tonite, and must to Abendonn by IX. I looke for you—- Your unfayned loving A. K.
The bearer has left my servise, and his helth conserus me nott. Soe kik him if he tarrie.
This last advice I had no time to carry out with any thoroughness: but being put in a great dread by this change of hour, pelted off toward the Corn Market as fast as legs could take me, which was the undoing of a little round citizen into whom I ran full tilt at the corner of Balliol College: who, before I could see his face in the darkness, was tipp'd on his back in the gutter and using the most dismal expressions. So I left him, considering that my excuses would be unsatisfying to his present demands, and to his cooler judgment a superfluity.
The windows of the "Crown" were cheerfully lit behind their red blinds. A few straddling grooms and troopers talked and spat in the brightness of the entrance, and outside in the street was a servant leading up and down a beautiful sorrel mare, ready saddled, that was mark'd on the near hind leg with a high white stocking. In the passage, I met the host of the "Crown," Master John Davenant, and sure (I thought) in what odd corners will the Muse pick up her favorites! For this slow, loose-cheek'd vintner was no less than father to Will Davenant, our Laureate, and had belike read no other verse in his life but those at the bottom of his own pint-pots.
"Top of the stairs," says he, indicating my way, "and open the door ahead of you, if y'are the young gentleman Master Killigrew spoke of."
I had my foot on the bottom step, when from the room above comes the crash of a table upsetting, with a noise of broken glass, chairs thrust back, and a racket of outcries. Next moment, the door was burst open, letting out a flood of light and curses; and down flies a drawer, three steps at a time, with a red stain of wine trickling down his white face.
"Murder!" he gasped out; and sitting down on a stair, fell to mopping his face, all sick and trembling.
I was dashing past him, with the landlord at my heels, when three men came tumbling out at the door, and downstairs. I squeezed myself against the wall to let them pass: but Master Davenant was pitch'd to the very foot of the stairs. And then he picked himself up and ran out into the Corn Market, the drawer after him, and both shouting "Watch! Watch!" at the top of their lungs; and so left the three fellows to push by the women already gathered in the passage, and gain the street at their ease. All this happen'd while a man could count twenty; and in half a minute I heard the ring of steel and was standing in the doorway.
There was now no light within but what was shed by the fire and two tallow candles that gutter'd on the mantelshelf. The remaining candlesticks lay in a pool of wine on the floor, amid broken glasses, bottles, scattered coins, dice boxes and pewter pots. In the corner to my right cower'd a potboy, with tankard dangling in his hand, and the contents spilling into his shoes. His wide terrified eyes were fix'd on the far end of the room, where Anthony and the brute Settle stood, with a shattered chair between them. Their swords were cross'd in tierce, and grating together as each sought occasion for a lunge: which might have been fair enough but for a dog-fac'd trooper in a frowsy black periwig, who, as I enter'd, was gathering a handful of coins from under the fallen table, and now ran across, sword in hand, to the Captain's aid.
'Twas Anthony that fac'd me, with his heel against the wainscoting, and, catching my cry of alarm, he call'd out cheerfully over the Captain's shoulder, but without lifting his eyes—
"Just in time, Jack! Take off the second cur, that's a sweet boy!"
Now I carried no sword; but seizing the tankard from the potboy's hand, I hurl'd it at the dog-fac'd trooper. It struck him fair between the shoulder blades; and with a yell of pain he spun round and came toward me, his point glittering in a way that turn'd me cold. I gave back a pace, snatch'd up a chair (that luckily had a wooden seat) and with my back against the door, waited his charge.
'Twas in this posture that, flinging a glance across the room, I saw the Captain's sword describe a small circle of light, and next moment, with a sharp cry, Anthony caught at the blade, and stagger'd against the wall, pinn'd through the chest to the wainscoting.
"Out with the lights, Dick!" bawl'd Settle, tugging out his point. "Quick, fool—the window!"
Dick, with a back sweep of his hand, sent the candles flying off the shelf; and, save for the flicker of the hearth, we were in darkness. I felt, rather than saw, his rush toward me; leap'd aside; and brought down my chair with a crash on his skull. He went down like a ninepin, but scrambled up in a trice, and was running for the window.
There was a shout below as the Captain thrust the lattice open: another, and the two dark forms had clambered through the purple square of the casement, and dropped into the bowling-green below.
By this, I had made my way across the room, and found Anthony sunk against the wall, with his feet outstretched. There was something he held out toward me, groping for my hand and at the same time whispering in a thick, choking voice—
"Here, Jack, here: pocket it quick!"
'Twas a letter, and as my fingers closed on it they met a damp smear, the meaning of which was but too plain.
"Button it—sharp—in thy breast: now feel for my sword."
"First let me tend thy hurt, dear lad."
"Nay—quickly, my sword! 'Tis pretty, Jack, to hear thee say 'dear lad.' A cheat to die like this—could have laugh'd for years yet. The dice were cogg'd—hast found it?"
I groped beside him, found the hilt, and held it up.
"So—'tis thine, Jack: and my mare, Molly, and the letter to take. Say to Delia—Hark! they are on the stairs. Say to—"
With a shout the door was flung wide, and on the threshold stood the Watch, their lanterns held high and shining in Anthony's white face, and on the black stain where his doublet was thrown open.
In numbers they were six or eight, led by a small, wrynecked man that held a long staff, and wore a gilt chain over his furr'd collar. Behind, in the doorway, were huddled half a dozen women, peering: and Master Davenant at the back of all, his great face looming over their shoulders like a moon.
"Now, speak up, Master Short!"
"Aye, that I will—that I will: but my head is considering of affairs," answered Master Short—he of the wryneck. "One, two, three—" He look'd round the room, and finding but one capable of resisting (for the potboy was by this time in a fit), clear'd his throat, and spoke up—
"In the king's name, I arrest you all—so help me God! Now what's the matter?"
"Murder," said I, looking up from my work of staunching Anthony's wound.
"Then forbear, and don't do it."
"Why, Master Short, they've been forbearin' these ten minutes," a woman's voice put in.
"Hush, and hear Master Short: he knows the law, an' all the dubious maxims of the same."
"Aye, aye: he says forbear i' the King's name, which is to say, that other forbearing is neither law nor grace. Now then, Master Short!"
Thus exhorted, the man of law continued—
"I charge ye as honest men to disperse!"
"Odds truth, Master Short, why you've just laid 'em under arrest!"
"H'm, true: then let 'em stay so—in the king's name—and have done with it."
Master Short, in fact, was growing testy: but now the women push'd by him, and, by screaming at the sight of blood, put him out of all patience. Dragging them back by the skirts, he told me he must take the depositions, and pull'd out pen and ink horn.
"Sirs," said I, laying poor Anthony's head softly back, "you are too late: whilst ye were cackling my friend is dead."
"Then, young man, thou must come along."
"The charge is homocidium, or manslaying, with or without malice prepense—"
"But—" I look'd round. The potboy was insensible, and my eyes fell on Master Davenant, who slowly shook his head.
"I'll say not a word," said he, stolidly: "lost twenty pound, one time, by a lawsuit."
"Pack of fools!" I cried, driven beyond endurance. "The guilty ones have escap'd these ten minutes. Now stop me who dares!"
And dashing my left fist on the nose of a watchman who would have seized me, I clear'd a space with Anthony's sword, made a run for the casement, and dropp'd out upon the bowling-green.
A pretty shout went up as I pick'd myself off the turf and rush'd for the back door. 'Twas unbarr'd, and in a moment I found myself tearing down the passage and out into the Corn Market, with a score or so tumbling downstairs at my heels, and yelling to stop me. Turning sharp to my right, I flew up Ship Street, and through the Turl, and doubled back up the High Street, sword in hand. The people I pass'd were too far taken aback, as I suppose, to interfere. But a many must have join'd in the chase: for presently the street behind me was thick with the clatter of footsteps and cries of "A thief—a thief! Stop him!"
At Quater Voies I turn'd again, and sped down toward St. Aldate's, thence to the left by Wild Boar Street, and into St. Mary's Lane. By this, the shouts had grown fainter, but were still following. Now I knew there was no possibility to get past the city gates, which were well guarded at night. My hope reach'd no further than the chance of outwitting the pursuit for a while longer. In the end I was sure the potboy's evidence would clear me, and therefore began to enjoy the fun. Even my certain expulsion from College on the morrow seem'd of a piece with the rest of events and (prospectively) a matter for laughter. For the struggle at the "Crown" had unhinged my wits, as I must suppose and you must believe, if you would understand my behavior in the next half hour.
A bright thought had struck me: and taking a fresh wind, I set off again round the corner of Oriel College, and down Merton Street toward Master Timothy Carter's house, my mother's cousin. This gentleman—who was town clerk to the Mayor and Corporation of Oxford—was also in a sense my guardian, holding it trust about L200 (which was all my inheritance), and spending the same jealously on my education. He was a very small, precise lawyer, about sixty years old, shaped like a pear, with a prodigious self-important manner that came of associating with great men: and all the knowledge I had of him was pick'd up on the rare occasions (about twice a year) that I din'd at his table. He had early married and lost an aged shrew, whose money had been the making of him: and had more respect for law and authority than any three men in Oxford. So that I reflected, with a kind of desperate hilarity, on the greeting he was like to give me.
This kinsman of mine had a fine house at the east end of Merton Street as you turn into Logic Lane: and I was ten yards from the front door, and running my fastest, when suddenly I tripp'd and fell headlong.
Before I could rise, a hand was on my shoulder, and a voice speaking in my ear—
"Pardon, comrade. We are two of a trade, I see."
'Twas a fellow that had been lurking at the corner of the lane, and had thrust out a leg as I pass'd. He was pricking up his ears now to the cries of "Thief—thief!" that had already reach'd the head of the street, and were drawing near.
"I am no thief," said I.
"Quick!" He dragged me into the shadow of the lane. "Hast a crown in thy pocket?"
"Why, for a good turn. I'll fog these gentry for thee. Many thanks, comrade," as I pull'd out the last few shillings of my pocket money. "Now pitch thy sword over the wall here, and set thy foot on my hand. 'Tis a rich man's garden, t'other side, that I was meaning to explore myself; but another night will serve."
"'Tis Master Carter's," said I; "and he's my kinsman."
"The devil!—but never mind, up with thee! Now mark a pretty piece of play. 'Tis pity thou shouldst be across the wall and unable to see."
He gave a great hoist: catching at the coping of the wall, I pull'd myself up and sat astride of it.
"Good turf below—ta-ta, comrade!"
By now, the crowd was almost at the corner. Dropping about eight feet on to good turf, as the fellow had said, I pick'd myself up and listen'd.
"Which way went he?" call'd one, as they came near.
"Down the street!" "No: up the lane!'" "Hush!" "Up the lane, I'll be sworn." "Here, hand the lantern!" &c., &c.
While they debated, my friend stood close on the other side of the wall: but now I heard him dash suddenly out, and up the lane for his life. "There he goes!" "Stop him!" the cries broke out afresh. "Stop him, i' the king's name!" The whole pack went pelting by, shouting, stumbling, swearing.
For two minutes or more the stragglers continued to hurry past by ones and twos. As soon as their shouts died away, I drew freer breath and look'd around.
I was in a small, turfed garden, well stock'd with evergreen shrubs, at the back of a tall house that I knew for Master Carter's. But what puzzled me was a window in the first floor, very brightly lit, and certain sounds issuing therefrom that had no correspondence with my kinsman's reputation.
"It was a frog leap'd into a pool— Fol—de—riddle, went souse in the middle! Says he, This is better than moping in school. With a—"
"—Your Royal Highness, have some pity! What hideous folly! Oh, dear, dear—"
"With a fa-la-tweedle-tweedle, Tiddifol-iddifol-ido!"
"—Your Royal Highness, I cannot sing the dreadful stuff! Think of my grey hairs!"
"Tush! Master Carter—nonsense; 'tis choicely well sung. Come, brother, the chorus!"
"With a fa-la—"
And the chorus was roar'd forth, with shouts of laughter and clinking of glasses. Then came an interval of mournful appeal, and my kinsman's voice was again lifted——
"He scattered the tadpoles, and set 'em agog, Hey! nod-noddy-all head and no body! Oh, mammy! Oh, minky!—"
"—O, mercy, mercy! it makes me sweat for shame."
Now meantime I had been searching about the garden, and was lucky enough to find a tool shed, and inside of this a ladder hanging, which now I carried across and planted beneath the window. I had a shrewd notion of what I should find at the top, remembering now to have heard that the Princes Rupert and Maurice were lodging with Master Carter: but the truth beat all my fancies.
For climbing softly up and looking in, I beheld my poor kinsman perch'd on his chair a-top of the table, in the midst of glasses, decanters, and desserts: his wig askew, his face white, save where, between the eyes, a medlar had hit and broken, and his glance shifting wildly between the two princes, who in easy postures, loose and tipsy, lounged on either side of him, and beat with their glasses on the board.
"Bravissimo! More, Master Carter—more!"
"O mammy, O nunky, here's cousin Jack Frog— With a fa-la—"
I lifted my knuckles and tapp'd on the pane; whereon Prince Maurice starts up with an oath, and coming to the window, flings it open.
"Pardon, your Highness," said I, and pull'd myself past him into the room, as cool as you please.
'Twas worth while to see their surprise. Prince Maurice ran back to the table for his sword: his brother (being more thoroughly drunk) dropped a decanter on the floor, and lay back staring in his chair. While as for my kinsman, he sat with mouth wide and eyes starting, as tho' I were a very ghost. In the which embarrassment I took occasion to say, very politely—
"Good evening, nunky!"
"Who the devil is this?" gasps Prince Rupert.
"Why the fact is, your Highnesses," answered I, stepping up and laying my sword on the table, while I pour'd out a glass, "Master Timothy Carter here is my guardian, and has the small sum of L200 in his possession for my use, of which I happen to-night to stand in immediate need. So you see—" I finished the sentence by tossing off a glass. "This is rare stuff!" I said.
"Blood and fury!" burst out Prince Rupert, fumbling for his sword, and then gazing, drunk and helpless.
"Two hundred pound! Thou jackanapes—" began Master Carter.
"I'll let you off with fifty to-night," said I.
"No, fifty. Indeed, nunky," I went on, "'tis very simple. I was at the 'Crown' tavern—"
"At a tavern!"
"Aye, at a game of dice—"
"Aye, and a young man was killed—"
"Thou shameless puppy! A man murder'd!"
"Aye, nunky; and the worst is they say 'twas I that kill'd him."
"He's mad. The boy's stark raving mad!" exclaim'd my kinsman. "To come here in this trim!"
"Why, truly, nunky, thou art a strange one to talk of appearances. Oh, dear!" and I burst into a wild fit of laughing, for the wine had warm'd me up to play the comedy out. "To hear thee sing
"'With a fa—la—tweedle—tweedle!'
and—Oh, nunky, that medlar on thy face is so funny!"
"In Heaven's name, stop!" broke in the Prince Maurice. "Am I mad, or only drunk? Rupert, if you love me, say I am no worse than drunk."
"Lord knows," answer'd his brother. "I for one was never this way before."
"Indeed, your Highnesses be only drunk," said I, "and able at that to sign the order that I shall ask you for."
"To pass the city gates to-night."
"Oh, stop him somebody," groan'd Prince Rupert: "my head is whirling."
"With your leave," I explain'd, pouring out another glassful: "tis the simplest matter, and one that a child could understand. You see, this young man was kill'd, and they charg'd me with it; so away I ran, and the Watch after me; and therefore I wish to pass the city gates. And as I may have far to travel, and gave my last groat to a thief for hoisting me over Master Carter's wall—"
"A thief—my wall!" repeated Master Carter. "Oh well is thy poor mother in her grave!"
"—Why, therefore I came for money," I wound up, sipping the wine, and nodding to all present.
'Twas at this moment that, catching my eye, the Prince Maurice slapp'd his leg, and leaning back, broke into peal after peal of laughter. And in a moment his brother took the jest also; and there we three sat and shook, and roar'd unquenchably round Master Carter, who, staring blankly from one to another, sat gaping, as though the last alarm were sounding in his ears.
"Oh! oh! oh! Hit me on the back, Maurice!"
"Oh! oh! I cannot—'tis killing me—Master Carter, for pity's sake, look not so; but pay the lad his money."
"Pay it I say; pay it: 'tis fairly won."
"Every doit," said I: "I'm sick of schooling."
"Be hang'd if I do!" snapp'd Master Carter.
"Then be hang'd, sir, but all the town shall hear to-morrow of the frog and the pool! No, sir: I am off to see the world——
"'Says he: "This is better than moping in school!"'"
"Your Highnesses," pleaded the unhappy man, "if, to please you, I sang that idiocy, which, for fifty years now, I had forgotten——"
"Exc'll'nt shong," says Prince Rupert, waking up; "less have't again!"
* * * * *
To be short, ten o'clock was striking from St. Mary's spire when, with a prince on either side of me, and thirty guineas in my pocket (which was all the loose gold he had), I walked forth from Master Carter's door. To make up the deficiency, their highnesses had insisted on furnishing me with a suit made up from the simplest in their joint wardrobes—riding-boots, breeches, buff-coat, sash, pistols, cloak, and feather'd hat, all of which fitted me excellently well. By the doors of Christ Church, before we came to the south gate, Prince Rupert, who had been staggering in his walk, suddenly pull'd up, and leaned against the wall.
"Why—odd's my life—we've forgot a horse for him!" he cried.
"Indeed, your Highness," I answered, "if my luck holds the same, I shall find one by the road." (How true this turned out you shall presently hear.)
There was no difficulty at the gate, where the sentry recogniz'd the two princes and open'd the wicket at once. Long after it had clos'd behind me, and I stood looking back at Oxford towers, all bath'd in the winter moonlight, I heard the two voices roaring away up the street:
"It was a frog leap'd into a pool—"
At length they died into silence; and, hugging the king's letter in my breast, I stepped briskly forward on my travels.
I TAKE THE ROAD.
So puffed up was I by the condescension of the two princes, and my head so busy with big thoughts, that not till I was over the bridges and climbing the high ground beyond South Hincksey, with a shrewd northeast wind at my back, could I spare time for a second backward look. By this, the city lay spread at my feet, very delicate and beautiful in a silver network, with a black clump or two to southward, where the line of Bagley trees ran below the hill. I pulled out the letter that Anthony had given me. In the moonlight the brown smear of his blood was plain to see, running across the superscription:
"To our trusty and well beloved Sir Ralph Hopton, at our Army in Cornwall—these."
'Twas no more than I look'd for; yet the sight of it and the king's red seal, quicken'd my step as I set off again. And I cared not a straw for Dr. Kettle's wrath on the morrow.
Having no desire to fall in with any of the royal outposts that lay around Abingdon, I fetched well away to the west, meaning to shape my course for Faringdon, and so into the great Bath road. 'Tis not my purpose to describe at any length my itinerary, but rather to reserve my pen for those more moving events that overtook me later. Only in the uncertain light I must have taken a wrong turn to the left (I think near Besselsleigh) that led me round to the south: for, coming about daybreak to a considerable town, I found it to be, not Faringdon, but Wantage. There was no help for it, so I set about enquiring for a bed. The town was full, and already astir with preparations for cattle-fair; and neither at the "Bear" nor the "Three Nuns" was there a bed to be had. But at length at the "Boot" tavern—a small house, I found one just vacated by a couple of drovers, and having cozen'd the chambermaid to allow me a clean pair of sheets, went upstairs very drowsily, and in five minutes was sleeping sound.
I awoke amid a clatter of voices, and beheld the room full of womankind.
"He's waking," said one.
"Tis a pity, too, to be afflicted thus—and he such a pretty young man!"
This came from the landlady, who stood close, her hand shaking my shoulder roughly.
"What's amiss?" I asked, rubbing my eyes.
"Why, 'tis three of the afternoon."
"Then I'll get up, as soon as you retire."
"Lud! we've been trying to wake thee this hour past; but 'twas sleep—sleep!"
"I'll get up, I tell you."
"Thought thee'd ha' slept through the bed and right through to the floor," said the chambermaid by the door, tittering.
"Unless you pack and go, I'll step out amongst you all!"
Whereat they fled with mock squeals, calling out that the very thought made them blush: and left me to dress.
Downstairs I found a giant's breakfast spread for me, and ate the hole, and felt the better for it: and thereupon paid my scot, resisting the landlady's endeavor to charge me double for the bed, and walked out to see the town.
"Take care o' thysel'," the chambermaid bawled after me; "nor flourish thy attainments abroad, lest they put thee in a show!"
Dark was coming on fast: and to my chagrin (for I had intended purchasing a horse) the buying and selling of the fair were over, the cattle-pens broken up, and the dealers gather'd round the fiddlers, ballad singers, and gingerbread stalls. There were gaming booths, too, driving a brisk trade at Shovel-board, All-fours, and Costly Colors; and an eating tent, whence issued a thick reek of cooking and loud rattle of plates. Over the entrance, I remember, was set a notice: "Dame Alloway from Bartholomew Fair. Here are the best geese, and she does them as well as ever she did." I jostled my way along, keeping tight hold on my pockets, for fear of cut-purses; when presently, about halfway down the street, there arose the noise of shouting. The crowd made a rush toward it; and in a minute I was left alone, standing before a juggler who had a sword halfway down his throat, and had to draw it out again before he could with any sufficiency curse the defection of his audience; but offered to pull out a tooth for me if I wanted it.
I left him, and running after the crowd soon learn'd the cause of this tumult.
'Twas a meagre old rascal that someone had charged with picking pockets: and they were dragging him off to be duck'd. Now in the heart of Wantage the little stream that runs through the town is widen'd into a cistern about ten feet square, and five in depth, over which hung a ducking stool for scolding wives. And since the townspeople draw their water from this cistern, 'tis to be supposed they do not fear the infection. A long beam on a pivot hangs out over the pool, and to the end is a chair fasten'd; into which, despite his kicks and screams, they now strapped this poor wretch, whose grey locks might well have won mercy for him.
Souse! he was plunged: hauled up choking and dripping: then—just as he found tongue to shriek—souse! again.
'Twas a dismal punishment; and this time they kept him under for a full half minute. But as the beam was lifted again, I heard a hullaballoo and a cry—
"The bear! the bear!"
And turning, I saw a great brown form lumbering down the street behind, and driving the people before it like chaff.
The crowd at the brink of the pool scatter'd to right and left, yelling. Up flew the beam of the ducking stool, reliev'd of their weight, and down with a splash went the pickpocket at the far end. As well for my own skin's sake as out of pity to see him drowning, I jumped into the water. In two strokes I reach'd him, gained footing, and with Anthony's sword cut the straps away and pull'd him up. And there we stood, up to our necks, coughing and spluttering; while on the deserted brink the bear sniff'd at the water and regarded us.
No doubt we appear'd contemptible enough: for after a time he turned with a louder sniff, and went his way lazily up the street again. He had broken out from the pit wherein, for the best part of the day, they had baited him; yet seemed to bear little malice. For he saunter'd about the town for an hour or two, hurting no man, but making a clean sweep of every sweet stall in his way; and was taken at last very easily, with his head in a treacle cask, by the bear ward and a few dogs.
Meanwhile the pickpocket and I had scrambled out by the further bank and wrung our clothes. He seemed to resent his treatment no more than did the bear.
"Ben cove—'tis a good world. My thanks!"
And with this scant gratitude he was gone, leaving me to make my way back to the sign of "The Boot," where the chambermaid led me upstairs, and took away my clothes to dry by the fire. I determin'd to buy a horse on the morrow, and with my guineas and the King's letter under the pillow, dropp'd off to slumber again.
My powers of sleep must have been nois'd abroad by the hostess: for next morning at the breakfast ordinary, the dealers and drovers laid down knife and fork to stare as I enter'd. After a while one or two lounged out and brought in others to look: so that soon I was in a ring of stupid faces, all gazing like so many cows.
For a while I affected to eat undisturbed: but lost patience at last and addressed a red-headed gazer——
"If you take me for a show, you ought to pay."
"That's fair," said the fellow, and laid a groat on the board. This came near to putting me in a passion, but his face was serious. "'Tis a real pleasure," he added heartily, "to look on one so gifted."
"If any of you," I said, "could sell me a horse——"
At once there was a clamor, all bidding in one breath for my custom. So finishing my breakfast, I walked out with them to the tavern yard, where I had my pick among the sorriest-looking dozen of nags in England, and finally bought from the red-haired man, for five pounds, bridle, saddle, and a flea-bitten grey that seem'd more honestly raw-boned than the rest. And the owner wept tears at the parting with his beast, and thereby added a pang to the fraud he had already put upon me. And I rode from the tavern door suspecting laughter in the eyes of every passer-by.
The day ('twas drawing near noon as I started) was cold and clear, with a coating of rime over the fields: and my horse's feet rang cheerfully on the frozen road. His pace was of the soberest: but, as I was no skilful rider, this suited me rather than not. Only it was galling to be told so, as happened before I had gone three miles.
'Twas my friend the pickpocket: and he sat before a fire of dry sticks a little way back from the road. His scanty hair, stiff as a badger's, now stood upright around his batter'd cap, and he look'd at me over the bushes, with his hook'd nose thrust forward like a bird's beak.
"Bien lightmans, comrade—good day! 'Tis a good world; so stop and dine."
I pull'd up my grey.
"Glad you find it so," I answered; "you had a nigh chance to compare it with the next, last night."
"Shan't do so well i' the next, I fear," he said with a twinkle: "but I owe thee something, and here's a hedgehog that in five minutes'll be baked to a turn. 'Tis a good world, and the better that no man can count on it. Last night my dripping duds helped me to a cant tale, and got me a silver penny from a man of religion. Good's in the worst; and life's like hunting the squirrel—a man gets much good exercise thereat, but seldom what he hunts for."
"That's as good morality as Aristotle's," said I.
"'Tis better for me, because 'tis mine." While I tether'd my horse he blew at the embers, wherein lay a good-sized ball of clay, baking. After a while he look'd up with red cheeks. "They were so fast set on drowning me," he continued with a wink, "they couldn't spare time to look i' my pocket—the ruffin cly them!"
He pull'd the clay ball out of the fire, crack'd it, and lo! inside was a hedgehog cook'd, the spikes sticking in the clay, and coming away with it. So he divided the flesh with his knife, and upon a slice of bread from his wallet it made very delicate eating: tho' I doubt if I enjoyed it as much as did my comrade, who swore over and over that the world was good, and as the wintry sun broke out, and the hot ashes warm'd his knees, began to chatter at a great pace.
"Why, sir, but for the pretty uncertainty of things I'd as lief die here as I sit——"
He broke off at the sound of wheels, and a coach with two postillions spun past us on the road.
I had just time to catch a glimpse of a figure huddled in the corner, and a sweet pretty girl with chestnut curls seated beside it, behind the glass. After the coach came a heavy broad-shoulder'd servant riding on a stout grey; who flung us a sharp glance as he went by, and at twenty yards' distance turn'd again to look.
"That's luck," observed the pickpocket, as the travelers disappear'd down the highway: "Tomorrow, with a slice of it, I might be riding in such a coach as that, and have the hydropsy, to boot. Good lack! when I was ta'en prisoner by the Turks a-sailing i' the Mary of London, and sold for a slave at Algiers, I escap'd, after two months, with Eli Sprat, a Gravesend man, in a small open boat. Well, we sail'd three days and nights, and all the time there was a small sea bird following, flying round and round us, and calling two notes that sounded for all the world like 'Wind'ard! Wind'ard!' So at last says Eli, ''Tis heaven's voice bidding us ply to wind'ard.' And so we did, and on the fourth day made Marseilles; and who should be first to meet Eli on the quay but a Frenchwoman he had married five years before, and left. And the jade had him clapp'd in the pillory, alongside of a cheating fishmonger with a collar of stinking smelts, that turn'd poor Eli's stomach completely. Now there's somewhat to set against the story of Whittington next time 'tis told you."
I was now for bidding the old rascal good-bye. But he offer'd to go with me as far as Hungerford, where we should turn into the Bath road. At first I was shy of accepting, by reason of his coat, wherein patches of blue, orange-tawny and flame-color quite overlaid the parent black: but closed with him upon his promise to teach me the horsemanship that I so sadly lacked. And by time we enter'd Hungerford town I was advanced so far, and bestrode my old grey so easily, that in gratitude I offer'd him supper and bed at an inn, if he would but buy a new coat: to which he agreed, saying that the world was good.
By this, the day was clouded over and the rain coming down apace. So that as soon as my comrade was decently array'd at the first slopshop we came to, 'twas high time to seek an inn. We found quarters at "The Horn," and sought the travelers' room, and a fire to dry ourselves.
In this room, at the window, were two men who look'd lazily up at our entrance. They were playing at a game, which was no other than to race two snails up a pane of glass and wager which should prove the faster.
"A wet day!" said my comrade, cheerfully.
The pair regarded him. "I'll lay you a crown it clears within the hour!" said one.
"And I another," put in the other; and with that they went back to their sport.
Drawing near, I myself was soon as eager as they in watching the snails, when my companion drew my notice to a piece of writing on the window over which they were crawling. 'Twas a set of verses scribbled there, that must have been scratch'd with a diamond: and to my surprise—for I had not guess'd him a scholar—he read them out for my benefit. Thus the writing ran, for I copied it later:
"Master Ephraim Tucker, his dying councell to wayfardingers; to seek The Splendid Spur.
"Not on the necks of prince or hound, Nor on a woman's finger twin'd, May gold from the deriding ground Keep sacred that we sacred bind Only the heel Of splendid steel Shall stand secure on sliding fate, When golden navies weep their freight.
"The scarlet hat, the laurell'd stave Are measures, not the springs, of worth; In a wife's lap, as in a grave, Man's airy notions mix with earth. Seek other spur Bravely to stir The dust in this loud world, and tread Alp-high among the whisp'ring dead.
"Trust in thyself,—then spur amain: So shall Charybdis wear a grace, Grim Aetna laugh, the Lybian plain Take roses to her shrivell'd face. This orb—this round Of sight and sound— Count it the lists that God hath built For haughty hearts to ride a-tilt.
"FINIS-Master Tucker's Farewell."
"And a very pretty moral on four gentlemen that pass their afternoon a setting snails to race!"
At these words, spoken in a delicate foreign voice we all started round: and saw a young lady standing behind us.
Now that she was the one who had passed us in the coach I saw at once. But describe her—to be plain—I cannot, having tried a many times. So let me say only that she was the prettiest creature on God's earth (which, I hope, will satisfy her); that she had chestnut curls and a mouth made for laughing; that she wore a kirtle and bodice of grey silk taffety, with a gold pomander-box hung on a chain about her neck; and held out a drinking glass toward us with a Frenchified grace.
"Gentlemen, my father is sick, and will taste no water but what is freshly drawn. I ask you not to brave Charybdis or Aetna, but to step out into the rainy yard and draw me a glassful from the pump there: for our servant is abroad in the town."
To my deep disgust, before I could find a word, that villainous old pickpocket had caught the glass from her hand and reached the door. But I ran after; and out into the yard we stepp'd together, where I pump'd while he held the glass to the spout, flinging away the contents time after time, till the bubbles on the brim, and the film on the outside, were to his liking.
'Twas he, too, that gain'd the thanks on our return.
"Mistress," said he with a bow, "my young friend is raw, but has a good will. Confess, now, for his edification—for he is bound on a long journey westward, where, they tell me, the maidens grow comeliest—that looks avail naught with womankind beside a dashing manner."
The young gentlewoman laughed, shaking her curls.
"I'll give him in that case three better counsels yet: first (for by his habit I see he is on the King's side), let him take a circuit from this place to the south, for the road between Marlboro' and Bristol is, they tell me, all held by the rebels; next, let him avoid all women, even tho' they ask but an innocent cup of water; and lastly, let him shun thee, unless thy face lie more than thy tongue. Shall I say more?"
"Why, no—perhaps better not," replied the old rogue hastily, but laughing all the same. "That's a clever lass," he added, as the door shut behind her.
And, indeed, I was fain, next morning, to agree to this. For, awaking, I found my friend (who had shar'd a room with me) already up and gone, and discovered the reason in a sheet of writing pinn'd to my clothes——
"Young Sir,—I convict myself of ingratitude: but habit is hard to break. So I have made off with the half of thy guineas and thy horse. The residue, and the letter thou bearest, I leave. 'Tis a good world, and experience should be bought early. This golden lesson I leave in return for the guineas. Believe me, 'tis of more worth. Read over those verses on the windowpane before starting, digest them, and trust me, thy obliged,
"Peter, The Jackman.
"Raise not thy hand so often to thy breast: 'tis a sure index of hidden valuables."
Be sure I was wroth enough: nor did the calm interest of the two snail owners appease me, when at breakfast I told them a part of the story. But I thought I read sympathy in the low price at which one of them offer'd me his horse. 'Twas a tall black brute, very strong in the loins, and I bought him at once out of my shrunken stock of guineas. At ten o'clock, I set out, not along the Bath road, but bearing to the south, as the young gentlewoman had counselled. I began to hold a high opinion of her advice.
By twelve o'clock I was back at the inn door, clamoring to see the man that sold me the horse, which had gone dead lame after the second mile.
"Dear heart!" cried the landlord; "they are gone, the both, this hour and a half. But they are coming again within the fortnight; and I'm expressly to report if you return'd, as they had a wager about it."
I turn'd away, pondering. Two days on the road had put me sadly out of conceit with myself. For mile upon mile I trudged, dragging the horse after me by the bridle, till my arms felt as if coming from their sockets. I would have turn'd the brute loose, and thought myself well quit of him, had it not been for the saddle and bridle he carried.
* * * * *
'Twas about five in the evening, and I still laboring along, when, over the low hedge to my right, a man on a sorrel mare leap'd easily as a swallow, and alighted some ten paces or less in front of me; where he dismounted and stood barring my path. The muzzle of his pistol was in my face before I could lay hand to my own.
"Good evening!" said I.
"You have money about you, doubtless," growled the man curtly, and in a voice that made me start. For by his voice and figure in the dusk I knew him for Captain Settle: and in the sorrel with the high white stocking I recognized the mare, Molly, that poor Anthony Killigrew had given me almost with his last breath.
The bully did not know me, having but seen me for an instant at "The Crown," and then in very different attire.
"I have but a few poor coins," I answer'd.
"Then hand 'em over."
"Be shot if I do!" said I in a passion; and pulling out a handful from my pocket, I dash'd them down in the road.
For a moment the Captain took his pistol from my face, and stooped to clutch at the golden coins as they trickled and ran to right and left. The next, I had struck out with my right fist, and down he went staggering. His pistol dropped out of his hand and exploded between my feet. I rush'd to Molly, caught her bridle, and leap'd on her back. 'Twas a near thing, for the Captain was rushing toward us. But at the call of my voice the mare gave a bound and turn'd: and down the road I was borne, light as a feather.
A bullet whizz'd past my ear: I heard the Captain's curse mingle with the report: and then was out of range, and galloping through the dusk.
MY ADVENTURE AT THE "THREE CUPS."
Secure of pursuit, and full of delight in the mare's easy motion, I must have travelled a good six miles before the moon rose. In the frosty sky her rays sparkled cheerfully, and by them I saw on the holsters the silver demi-bear that I knew to be the crest of the Killigrews, having the fellow to it engraved on my sword-hilt. So now I was certain 'twas Molly that I bestrode: and took occasion of the light to explore the holsters and saddle flap.
Poor Anthony's pistols were gone—filched, no doubt, by the Captain: but you may guess my satisfaction, when on thrusting my hand deeper, I touched a heap of coins, and found them to be gold.
'Twas certainly a rare bargain I had driven with Captain Settle. For the five or six gold pieces I scatter'd on the road, I had won close on thirty guineas, as I counted in the moonlight; not to speak of this incomparable Molly. And I began to whistle gleefully, and taste the joke over again and laugh to myself, as we cantered along with the north wind at our backs.
All the same, I had no relish for riding thus till morning. For the night was chill enough to search my very bones after the heat of the late gallop: and, moreover, I knew nothing of the road, which at this hour was quite deserted. So that, coming at length to a tall hill with a black ridge of pine wood standing up against the moon like a fish's fin, I was glad enough to note below it, and at some distance from the trees, a window brightly lit; and pushed forward in hope of entertainment.
The building was an inn, though a sorry one. Nor, save for the lighted window, did it wear any grace of hospitality, but thrust out a bare shoulder upon the road, and a sign that creaked overhead and look'd for all the world like a gallows. Round this shoulder of the house, and into the main yard (that turn'd churlishly toward the hillside), the wind howled like a beast in pain. I climb'd off Molly, and pressing my hat down on my head, struck a loud rat-tat on the door.
Curiously, it opened at once; and I saw a couple of men in the lighted passage.
"Heard the mare's heels on the road, Cap—. Hillo! What in the fiend's name is this?"
Said I: "If you are he that keeps this house, I want two things of you—first, a civil tongue, and next a bed."
"Ye'll get neither, then."
"Your sign says that you keep an inn."
"Aye—the 'Three Cups': but we're full."
"Your manner of speech proves that to be a lie."
I liked the fellow's voice so little that 'tis odds I would have re-mounted Molly and ridden away; but at this instant there floated down the stairs and out through the drink-smelling passage a sound that made me jump. 'Twas a girl's voice singing——
"Hey nonni—nonni—no! Men are fools that wish to die! Is't not fine to laugh and sing When the hells of death do ring——"
There was no doubt upon it. The voice belonged to the young gentlewoman I had met at Hungerford. I turned sharply toward the landlord, and was met by another surprise. The second man, that till now had stood well back in the shadow, was peering forward, and devouring Molly with his gaze. 'Twas hard to read his features, but then and there I would have wagered my life he was no other than Luke Settle's comrade, Black Dick.
My mind was made up. "I'll not ride a step further, to-night," said I.
"Then bide there and freeze," answer'd the landlord.
He was for slamming the door in my face, when the other caught him by the arm and, pulling him a little back, whisper'd a word or two. I guess'd what this meant, but resolved not to draw back; and presently the landlord's voice began again, betwixt surly and polite——
"Have ye too high a stomach to lie on straw?"
"Oho!" thought I to myself, "then I am to be kept for the mare's sake, but not admitted to the house:" and said aloud that I could put up with a straw bed.
"Because there's the stable loft at your service. As ye hear" (and in fact the singing still went on, only now I heard a man's voice joining in the catch) "our house is full of company. But straw is clean bedding, and the mare I'll help to put in stall."
"Agreed," I said, "on one condition—that you send out a maid to me with a cup of mulled sack: for this cold eats me alive."
To this he consented: and stepping back into a side room with the other fellow, returned in a minute alone, and carrying a lantern which, in spite of the moon, was needed to guide a stranger across that ruinous yard. The flare, as we pick'd our way along, fell for a moment on an open cart shed and, within, on the gilt panels of a coach that I recogniz'd. In the stable, that stood at the far end of the court, I was surprised to find half a dozen horses standing, ready saddled, and munching their fill of oats. They were ungroom'd, and one or two in a lather of sweat that on such a night was hard to account for. But I asked no questions, and my companion vouchsafed no talk, though twice I caught him regarding me curiously as I unbridled the mare in the only vacant stall. Not a word pass'd as he took the lantern off the peg again, and led the way up a ramshackle ladder to the loft above. He was a fat, lumbering fellow, and made the old timbers creak. At the top he set down the light, and pointed to a heap of straw in the corner.
"Yon's your bed," he growled; and before I could answer, was picking his way down the ladder again.
I look'd about, and shiver'd. The eaves of my bedchamber were scarce on speaking terms with the walls, and through a score of crannies at least the wind poured and whistled, so that after shifting my truss of straw a dozen times I found myself still the centre of a whirl of draught. The candle-flame, too, was puffed this way and that inside the horn sheath. I was losing patience when I heard footsteps below; the ladder creak'd, and the red hair and broad shoulders of a chambermaid rose into view. She carried a steaming mug in her hand, and mutter'd all the while in no very choice talk.
The wench had a kind face, tho'; and a pair of eyes that did her more credit than her tongue.
"And what's to be my reward for this, I want to know?" she panted out, resting her left palm on her hip.
"Why, a groat or two," said I, "when it comes to the reckoning."
"Lud!" she cried, "what a dull young man!"
"Aye—to make me ask for a kiss in so many words:" and with the back of her left hand she wiped her mouth for it frankly, while she held out the mug in her right.
"Oh!" I said, "I beg your pardon, but my wits are frozen up, I think. There's two, for interest: and another if you tell me whom your master entertains to-night, that I must be content with this crib."
She took the kisses with composure and said—-
"Well—to begin, there's the gentlefolk that came this afternoon with their own carriage and heathenish French servant: a cranky old grandee and a daughter with more airs than a peacock: Sir Something- or-other Killigew—Lord bless the boy!"
For I had dropp'd the mug and split the hot sack all about the straw, where it trickled away with a fragrance reproachfully delicious.
"Now I beg your pardon a hundred times: but the chill is in my bones worse than the ague;" and huddling my shoulders up, I counterfeited a shivering fit with a truthfulness that surpris'd myself.
"—And 'tis first hot and then cold all down my spine."
"-And goose flesh and flushes all over my body."
"Dear heart-and to pass the night in this grave of a place!"
"—And by morning I shall be in a high fever: and oh! I feel I shall die of it!"
"Don't—don't!" The honest girl's eyes were full of tears. "I wonder, now—" she began: and I waited, eager for her next words. "Sure, master's at cards in the parlor, and 'll be drunk by midnight. Shalt pass the night by the kitchen fire, if only thou make no noise."
"But your mistress—what will she say?"
"Is in heaven these two years: and out of master's speaking distance forever. So blow out the light and follow me gently."
Still feigning to shiver, I follow'd her down the ladder, and through the stable into the open. The wind by this time had brought up some heavy clouds, and mass'd them about the moon: but 'twas freezing hard, nevertheless. The girl took me by the hand to guide me: for, save from the one bright window in the upper floor, there was no light at all in the yard. Clearly, she was in dread of her master's anger, for we stole across like ghosts, and once or twice she whisper'd a warning when my toe kick'd against a loose cobble. But just as I seem'd to be walking into a stone wall, she put out her hand, I heard the click of a latch, and stood in a dark, narrow passage.
The passage led to a second door that open'd on a wide, stone-pav'd kitchen, lit by a cheerful fire, whereon a kettle hissed and bubbled as the vapor lifted the cover. Close by the chimney corner was a sort of trap, or buttery hatch, for pushing the hot dishes conveniently into the parlor on the other side of the wall. Besides this, for furniture, the room held a broad deal table, an oak dresser, a linen press, a rack with hams and strings of onions depending from it, a settle and a chair or two, with (for decoration) a dozen or so of ballad sheets stuck among the dish covers along the wall.
"Sit," whisper'd the girl, "and make no noise, while I brew a rack- punch for the men-folk in the parlor." She jerked her thumb toward the buttery hatch, where I had already caught the mur-mer of voices.
I took up a chair softly, and set it down between the hatch and the fireplace, so that while warming my knees I could catch any word spoken more than ordinary loud on the other side of the wall. The chambermaid stirr'd the fire briskly, and moved about singing as she fetch'd down bottles and glasses from the dresser——
"Lament ye maids an' darters For constant Sarah Ann, Who hang'd hersel' in her garters All for the love o' man, All for the—"
She was pausing, bottle in hand, to take the high note: but hush'd suddenly at the sound of the voices singing in the room upstairs—-
"Vivre en tout cas C'est le grand soulas Des honnetes gens!"
"That's the foreigners," said the chambermaid, and went on with her ditty——
"All for the love of a souljer Who christening name was Jan."
A volley of oaths sounded through the buttery hatch.
"—And that's the true-born Englishmen, as you may tell by their speech. 'Tis pretty company the master keeps, these days."
She was continuing her song, when I held up a finger for silence. In fact, through the hatch my ear had caught a sentence that set me listening for more with a still heart.
"D—n the Captain," the landlord's gruff voice was saying; "I warn'd 'n agen this fancy business when sober, cool-handed work was toward."
"Settle's way from his cradle," growl'd another; "and times enough I've told 'n: 'Cap'n,' says I, 'there's no sense o' proportions about ye.' A master mind, sirs, but 'a 'll be hang'd for a hen-roost, so sure as my name's Bill Widdicomb."